In Theaters This Weekend: Reviews of 'Hobbs & Shaw,' 'Luce,' 'Jay Myself' and More

8:15 AM 8/2/2019

by Lily Rosenberg

An offshoot of ‘The Fast and the Furious’ franchise, a picture-perfect son and student under suspicion by Octavia Spencer and an famed photographer packing up his 72-room Manhattan home are among the topics of films hitting theaters Friday.

'Hobbs & Shaw'
'Hobbs & Shaw'
Universal Pictures

The Fast and the Furious franchise continues this week with Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Idris Elba in the spinoff Hobbs & Shaw. As Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) hear of a bio-threat to humanity, they must work together against Brixton (Idris Elba) to save the world.

The documentary Jay Myself shows the influential photographer Jay Maisel packing up his six-story studio and home in Manhattan in which he has lived in for 48 years. The film begins five months before the photographer must leave, showing the process of packing up 72 rooms.

Luce is a psychological thriller about a picture-perfect student and son who writes an aggressively violent essay, which a teacher, played by Octavia Spencer, flags and tells his two worried parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) of his abnormal behavior.

Fans of The Babadook can welcome the return of director Jennifer Kent with The Nightingale. The film follows an Irish convict as she seeks revenge on a British soldier who committed extreme acts of violence on her family.

Based on a book, Piranhas shows a group of naive teens who enter organized crime in Naples. The film addresses the loss of innocence for the group as they continue into the power-hungry city controlled by the mob.

Tel Aviv on Fire is a film discussing the relationship between Palestine and Israel from the set of a popular Palestinian soap opera. With humor and irony, the pic captures dynamics between Jews and Arabs from the set and a checkpoint.

Them That Follow focuses on a strict religious community in the woods, where the daughter of the reverend holds a secret that, if revealed, could lead to deadly traditions from her father.

With a range of films debuting, here’s what The Hollywood Reporter's critics thought of this weekend’s releases.

  • 'Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw'

    Release date: Aug. 2

    With the Fast and the Furious movies still going strong after 18 years, this film, positioned as an offshoot of the franchise, stars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham begrudgingly working together against the cyber-genetically enhanced anarchist Idris Elba. Directed by David Leitch (Deadpool 2) and produced by Chris Morgan, the pic, which cost upwards of $190 million, tells of how the two men try to stop an insidious bio-threat from altering humanity.

    In critic Todd McCarthy's review, he writes, "This gigantic, sometimes rollicking and enjoyably absurd venture is not an actual Fast and Furious entry but something of a parallel even." He says of the franchise: "Without rejuvenation, they [the films] can get tired, repetitive, cobwebby and/or outdated. Not only have these traps been avoided here, but the film gets giddy and goofy in spots and always wears its fundamental absurdity with good humor."

    McCarthy adds, though: "Leitch's constantly felt impulse to amp up every scene and provide something more yields benefits on a moment-to-moment basis, but can also reach a point of diminishing returns in its totality.”

  • 'Jay Myself'

    Release date: July 31

    Stephen Wilkes/Mind Hive Films

    Stephen Wilkes explores the vast home of influential photographer Jay Maisel, who shot the cover for Miles Davis' album Kind of Blue. The whole building, which he bought for barely over a hundred grand in 1967, cost three times that every year by 2014 for taxes and upkeep, so he sold it for $55 million. Wilkes, once Maisel’s assistant and mentee, captures the vast home and studio as the artist prepares to leave it after 48 years.

    In John DeFore's review, he writes of the mystery surrounding The Bank, the building Maisel lived in, which to outsiders seemed as if squatters were in it due to its foil-covered windows, and discusses the surprise at the interior filled with "too much to look at inside, and too little time to do it."

    Starting five months before Maisel has to leave the property, the doc shows how the artist is left to sort 72 rooms spread over six floors, which Defore explains "have become a physical manifestation of large chunks of the artist's mind." As the film continues, DeFore writes, it grows melancholy, but "the older man will interrupt a train of thought to point out a window and observe that there are more than a dozen good photos to be made from that vantage."

  • 'Luce'

    Release date: Aug. 2

    Larkin Seiple/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    Based on the play The Cloverfield Paradox by JC Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Julius Onah, Luce follows two parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) who start worrying after their adopted son, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a star student, writes an aggressive essay about the usefulness of violence. A suspicious teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), calls in Luce’s mother regarding the paper and reveals she searched the student’s locker and found a bag of illegal fireworks. After the meeting, the parents' relationship with their son becomes strained and animosity from the teacher begins.

    THR critic John DeFore writes that “a single question is the gateway to deep psychological drama.” As the film unspools, though, DeFore says that “the idea that a teacher would be able to search students' lockers on her own and not be fired (she's done it before, and everybody knows) is eyebrow-raising, especially in a school full of privileged kids as this one. The script stretches credibility further."

    He adds, "Teasing the viewer with ambiguous evidence is one thing, but the film doesn't seem to know what truth is behind the curtain. Luce the man remains unknown, and Luce the movie a missed opportunity."

  • 'The Nightingale'

    Release date: Aug. 2

    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    Based on the 2018 Australian period thriller written, co-produced and directed by Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), The Nightingale centers on a young Irish convict (Aisling Franciosi) who seeks revenge on a British officer (Sam Claflin) after he commits terrible acts of violence against her family. Traveling through the Tasmanian wilderness. the woman gains the help of Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) and showcases the blood-stained price of seeking vengeance.

    In David Rooney's review, he writes that "the film's ambitious reach is undercut by script issues, with a powerful setup that doesn't carry the grim tale all the way to its conclusion.”

    Continues Rooney: "It's well-acted for the most part, vividly atmospheric and evocatively shot by Polish cinematographer Radek Ladczuk in Tasmanian wilderness locations, taking great visual advantage of the contrasts between the dense ground cover of lacy ferns on the forest floor and the airy treetops of the canopy."

    Rooney conlucdes that "if The Nightingale doesn’t quite fulfill the high expectations for Kent’s sophomore feature, it still shows a director with a muscular handle on her craft, though in this case she could have used a script collaborator to address the weaknesses."

  • 'Piranhas'

    Release date: Aug. 2

    Courtesy of Berlinale

    Based on the novel by Roberto Saviano, this film follows a group of naive 15-year-olds who become a part of organized crime led by Nicola (Francesco Di Napoli) as he moves from dealing marijuana to bartering for guns in a mafia-controlled Naples. Directed by Claudio Giovannesi, the pic shows the loss of innocence for the group of teens as they force the door open into the power-hungry world of crime.

    In her review of the film, Deborah Young writes, "The screenplay struggles to rise above the level of a sociological study into the realm of exciting cinema." She adds: "The downward spiral Nicola so cheerfully enters is a predictable trap, and the wolves he meets along his way — the city's reigning bosses, many of whom have been declawed by the police — are a lot less frightening than the old Godfather crew."

  • 'Tel Aviv on Fire'

    Release date: Aug. 2

    Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

    Writer-director Sameh Zoabi’s third feature, following Family Albums and Under the Same Sun, tells the story of Salam (Kais Nashif), a Palestinian living in Jerusalem who works on a popular Palestinian soap opera and must go through a difficult checkpoint every day to get to work. On his commute, he meets the checkpoint commander, Assi (Yaniv Biton), who puts pressure on Salam to change the end of the show, a soap opera Assi’s wife loves. As Salam realizes the ideas could gain him a promotion at work, the film shows the relationships between Jews and Arabs with comedy.

    In his review, Jordan Mintzer writes that director Sameh Zoabi keeps “the tone airy and slightly ironic, poking fun at the political posturing of some of the characters while also revealing their human sides.” He adds, "The film smartly undercuts cliches while bringing together Jews and Arabs in their common love for tear-jerking televised fluff.”

    Mintzer continues by writing that the "performances are fine across the board, with the relatively unknown Nashif and Biton holding their own against a veteran like (Lubna) Azabal, who plays Tel Aviv’s sentimental heroine with the perfect dose of saccharine.”

  • 'Them That Follow'

    Release date: Aug. 2

    Julius Chiu/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    The debut feature film from Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage tells the story of a small isolated community somewhere in Appalachia, where Rev. Lemuel (Walton Goggins) arranges a marriage between his daughter, Mara (Alice Englehart), and Garret (Lewis Pullman). Mara, knocked up by her friend Augie (Thomas Mann), a secret that's unknown to her father, fiance and community, fears for the deadly traditions of her father’s church if it is revealed. Zeke (Jim Gaffigan) and Hope (Olivia Colman), Augie's parents, keep a watchful eye on her as the strict religious community unravels.

    THR film critic Leslie Felperin writes that Poulton and Savage “are clearly at pains to be respectful toward this highly repressive milieu that interprets parts of the Bible quite literally. We're talking dancing with poisonous snakes (see Mark 16:18) and then refusing to seek medical treatment if someone gets bitten because it's up to God if the victim lives or dies.”

    Them That Follow “starts off slow and then builds up a big ol' head of crazy by the last half hour, making for sometimes unintentionally risible results,” Felperin adds. Addressing the performance of the Oscar-winning Colman, Felperin writes that the actress “can handle anything thrown her way, including crying abjectly with an open mouth in a way that breaks your heart and suggesting a whole backstory for her character just by the way she smokes a cigarette."